Intermittent fasting (IF) is a popular method of weight loss with the additional benefits of increased energy, lowered inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, revved-up metabolism, and possibly even cancer prevention. IF is simply applied by extending the hours between dinner and breakfast. The fasting period typically ranges from 12 to 18 hours. Men do particularly well fasting for long hours. Women, however, often struggle to reach even the 12-hour marker due to our protective hormonal and reproductive systems. The good news is that there are strategies women can use to get started on IF, without letting it affect hormones or mood, or triggering out-of-control hunger.
The primary concern for women when using IF is the likelihood that the body will identify chronic calorie restriction as a serious stressor. Long periods of food reduction can send signals that shut down the reproductive system, potentially leading to infertility, amenorrhea, or even early menopause – the opposite of anti-aging effects for which we were hoping.
A significant hurdle for women occurs on day one, however – unrelenting hunger pangs. The female body is very sensitive to signals of famine; therefore, as a protective response it increases production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which is difficult to ignore and causes most women to fail at fasting. To address initial obstacles such as hunger, and longer-term concerns such as early menopause, the following are strategies to help females be successful with IF:
- Fast on 2–3 nonconsecutive days per week, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.
- On fasting days, walk, jog, or do yoga in a fasted state.
- Start the fasting period at 12 hours and work up to 16+ hours after 1-2 months.
- Eat normal and adequate, but healthy amounts, on your strength training/ intense exercise days.
- Drink plenty of water (tea and coffee are okay- black/plain only).
- After two weeks, start to add one more day of fasting, for a total of 4 days per week.
- Consider taking 5–8 grams of branched chain amino acids (BCAA) during the fasting hours you are awake. BCAA supplements have few calories and will not affect the fasting benefits, but will provide fuel to muscles, taking the edge off hunger and fatigue.
Common sense rules still apply, such as avoiding unhealthy food and not overeating on “days off” are still necessary for weight loss and health. Of course, the better your diet is, the easier you will find it to adjust to IF, and the faster you will see the benefits. In fact, lower carbohydrate dieters often are more successful at intermittent fasting due to blood sugar stability.
If you have been unsuccessful at IF before, or if you are just looking for a simple way to improve your health, intermittent fasting can be made easier with the tips above.
Note: Fasting is not for everyone, such as diabetics or highly stressed individuals. Speak with your physician before starting any regimented diet or fasting.
Tiffany is a certified nutrition consultant and functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and can be reached at (760) 285.1221. For more information visit TiffanyDalton.net.